Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best on the LPGA Without a Major: 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship Edition, Part I

All right, with the LPGA's 1st major less than a day away, it's about time I updated my list of the best on tour without a major, ranked by their likelihood of breaking through at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and later 2011 majors. The numbers in parentheses are for LPGA wins and international wins (but only from the other major tours: JLPGA, KLPGA, LET).

Most Likely to Break Through in 2011

1. Na Yeon Choi (4/4): Sure, besides her missed cuts at the '07 U.S. Women's Open and '10 LPGA Championship (still her only MC in her career as an LPGA member), her worst finish in a major is T40 at the '09 KNC; otherwise, she has all top 30s, with top 10s in 5 of her last 7 starts, including a silver and a bronze in her last 2. I actually liked that she took some risks last Sunday when she got to -12 on the final 9. She knew those ahead of her weren't going to come back to her, so she went ahead and tried to catch them. Good strategy for a player who's looking to win in bunches this year to prove that her money-list title and Vare Trophy were no flukes.
2. Amy Yang (0/3): A T9 at the '08 LPGA Championship had been the only hint she's shown in the majors of her prodigious talent until last season, when she steadily improved from T27 to T14 to T5 to T5. Can she keep that streak going this week? Only if she can take advantage of her length.
3. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): In her last 10 majors, her only finishes outside the top 20 have been at exceptionally windy KNC events the last 2 seasons. Coming into this year's KNC with 3 top 5s in majors in a row, and playing well already this season, she's ready to win. Will this be her week to stop knocking on the door and finally bust through it? Only if she plays her best golf all 4 rounds.
4. Sun Young Yoo (1/0): She's made the cut in 9 of her last 11 majors, a fitting companion to her late bloom on the LPGA relative to most of her Young Gun-generation peers. Even though her best finish in a major (and only top 20) was T12 at last season's KNC, she's been putting up impressive performance stats for several years now, as an Angela Stanfordesque straight shooter. Anyone who can cut through the top players on tour as she did in last year's Sybase Match Play Championship like [insert metaphor of your choice here] certainly has the talent to break through in a major. Plus she's already playing sneaky great in 2011.
5. Michelle Wie (2/0): So far, her performance in majors as an LPGA member has been nowhere near her 7 close calls from 2003-2006, including 6 top 5s, 2 of them at Mission Hills. Can she go back to the future in a week between finals of winter quarter and a belated start to the spring quarter at Stanford?

The Contenders

6. Katherine Hull (2/1): Yes, she only has 3 top 20s in majors in her life, but she's coming off a near-miss against Ya Ni Tseng in last year's Women's British Open and she has a T8 at the '09 KNC (her only other career top 10) to build on.
7. Angela Stanford (4/0): Sure, she has 4-straight top 20s at the KNC, but her last top 10 at Mission Hills came in 2007. Her best chance to win a major to date was back in the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, but Hilary Lunke answered Stanford's 27-foot birdie with her own walkoff birdie to win the 18-hole playoff instead. Since then, Stanford's had 13 top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship. Can she put it all together at the KNC this week? I'm doubtful, but prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
8. Ai Miyazato (6/15): Yes, her best major is clearly the Women's British Open, and yes, her best finish at the KNC is only a T15 (and way back in 2007, at that). In fact, her record at Mission Hills is easily her worst among all the LPGA's majors, probably because of its winds and length. I know it's time for her to win an LPGA major, but given this history and how she's been playing so far in 2011 (decent ball-striking, bad putting by her standards), it's very unlikely to come this week.
9. Song-Hee Kim (0/0): With top 25s in 9 of her last 10 majors, she's got the talent and the game to make her 1st LPGA win a major. I'm talking Cristie Kerr-style talent and game, here. She's already won a bronze at KNC, but given her lack of consistency thus far in 2011, I wouldn't put any money down on her to break through this week.
10. Mika Miyazato (0/1): Another golfer who's playing sneaky good this season, she has 2 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career. Plus, she's already won a JLPGA major, getting revenge at the '10 Japan Women's Open for her final-round collapse in the '09 JWO.
11. Stacy Lewis (0/0): Her best finish in a major as an LPGA member--T9 at the '09 LPGA Championship--wouldn't have felt like quite such a letdown if she hadn't finished T5 at the '07 KNC and T3 at the '08 U.S. Women's Open before joining the tour. But she made the top 20 in the 1st 3 majors of last season and got off to a great start Down Under this season. So I'm looking for her to jumpstart her LPGA career--and soon.
12. Maria Hjorth (4/5): She's an explosive, unpredictable golfer with 4 top 10s and 3 MCs at the KNC alone. She may not yet be quite back to being the kind of player again who averaged 2 top 10s in majors a year in 2007 and 2008--and I doubt she'll improve on that T2, 4th, 2nd run from the '07 WBO to the '08 U.S. Women's Open. But given that the KNC event that came in the middle of that run was her last start there and she faced down Amy Yang at the end of last season, I wouldn't put anything past her this week.
13. Seon Hwa Lee (4/3): Her best result at Mission Hills is a T5 back in 2008, but she's had only 1 top 10 in her last 11 starts in majors--probably the key reason she dropped so far down the 2009 and 2010 money lists. However, she's showing signs of life with a T19 at last year's LPGA Championship and solid play thus far in 2011.

Look for my list of Quantum Leap Candidates and The Best of the Rest tonight!

[Update 1 (3/31/11, 9:18 am): Or the next morning!]

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